May 22, 2024
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May 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In two weeks, Jews across the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah. During the Rosh Hashanah season, many have a custom to set ambitious long-term goals. Some of us aim to join a gym and drop 30 pounds. Some of us wish to start a daily Torah learning routine and attend shiurim. Some of us want to get rid of decade-old habits like biting our nails or binge-watching sports documentaries on Motzei Shabbat. Several years ago, Rabbi Daniel Hartstein offered students at Yeshivat Lev Hatorah one memorable piece of Rosh Hashanah goal-setting advice. “Each year, set one goal for yourself to achieve.” Last year, I decided to make extra time for my brother.

Over the last five years, my brother Ezra has played for Yavneh Academy and TABC Storm’s basketball team. From 2017 to 2021, I attended zero of Ezra’s games. Not the regular season, playoffs, or YU’s famous Sarachek tournament. Instead of supporting Ezra at basketball games, I dedicated free time to completing schoolwork, guy chills, learning Torah and staying in shape. Traveling to Teaneck on weeknights for two-hour long basketball games required me to sacrifice a consistent chavruta or workout. A sacrifice that 21-, 22-, 23- and 24-year-old Yosef opted not to make.

But 2022 would be a different year. It marked Ezra’s senior year at TABC and final year of varsity basketball. Years of practicing in the driveway, youth leagues, basketball camps and outdoor pickup games led to his final season. A season the TABC Storm aimed to bring a championship and Sarachek Trophy back to 1600 Queen Anne Road. In the words of Zac Efron from “High School Musical,” it was “now, or never.” After missing games for nearly half a decade, I decided to begin showing up. This decision would catapult our relationship to new heights.

During the 2022-2023 TABC varsity basketball season, I attended every high-stakes game. The home and away games against inter-city rival Yeshivat Frisch. Home and away games versus out-of-state rival SAR; senior night against Magen David; multiple playoff games; and the Sarachek tournament. At each game, fans could hear this 25-year-old author relay two low-pitched chants: “Ezrrrra. Ezrrrra”; or, “DE-fense, DE-fense.” Following these chants, fans could hear my mother, Bonnie, provide memorable responses: “Don’t cheer so loud. You’re 25 years old.” By the season’s halfway point, I even started bringing friends to join and watch TABC play.

In the playoffs, I watched TABC come from behind and beat Ramaz. The following week, TABC had an away game against Magen David on Wednesday at 9 p.m. However on Thursday, I had an important quiz scheduled. Conflicting thoughts jumped in and out of my head about the game. What matters more, supporting your brother, or passing the quiz? Long story short, I sat next to notable TABC fan Mort the Sport and watched TABC lose. The next morning, I scored a quiz grade equal to or greater than zero. At YU’s annual Sarachek Tournament, I watched TABC lose a first-round game to eventual winners, the Valley Torah Wolfpack. However, TABC put up a nice Tier 2 semifinal run in the consolation bracket.

During the 2022-2023 TABC varsity basketball season, my mother attended every home and away game. For most games, my father, George, showed up too. Neither parent could not care less about watching any form of sports. To be honest, one of my parents does not know the rules of basketball. Yet, my father would cancel several nighttime chavrutas to attend Ezra’s basketball games. My mother would set aside all plans to be there for Ezra’s games in Deal, Brooklyn, Elizabeth, Manhattan—all over the tri-state area. Observing the way my parents went out of their way to support Ezra inspired me to keep attending games.

Indirectly and directly, Ezra would comment on my game attendance. Before games, Ezra would sometimes ask me, “Yuss, you coming?” After each game, Ezra and I would take a picture together. Win or lose, merely attending the games would leave an impression on Ezra. Showing up makes a difference.

Following the high school basketball season, Ezra and I continued to bond over basketball Around springtime, Ezra and I joined an adult basketball league in New York City. Our team consisted of guys varying in size and skills. Ezra started at point guard. I would come off the bench. During games, Ezra would give me some advice. “Yuss, don’t be afraid to take the ball in. Yuss, you haven’t played the whole half; put yourself in.”

Before one regular season game, a dilemma occurred. I had a paper due the morning after our scheduled night game. Most responsible students would miss this low-stakes recreational game and focus on perfecting their paper. School first, basketball second. But this game meant more than basketball. It meant another few hours to spend extra time with Ezra. Long story short, I played the game and submitted the paper at 5:45 a.m.

In early May, our team made the semi-finals. Down by three points with three minutes left, the unthinkable happened. Ezra took himself out of the game and put me in. Other members of the squad started to raise several eyebrows. Ezra scored over 20 points in this game. During crunch time, the best scorer should be on the court. But Ezra cared more about me getting in the game than winning. Three minutes later, our team lost. But I will remember Ezra’s generous deed forever.

During this summer, Ezra and I have played almost a dozen one-on-one basketball games against each other. Up to this point, I have not won a single game. Last week, I sprained my ankle during one of our games. Unable to play basketball right now, I decided to reflect on how the game has brought Ezra and me closer.

Moving forward, I hope this article inspires others to make extra time for their siblings. If possible, attend your brother’s play. Show up for your sister’s graduation. Stop by your sibling’s sports game or dance performance. On Shabbat afternoon, offer to play a board game with your sister. After Shabbat, take your brother out for mini golf or ice cream. These little moments will take your relationship to another level.

This past Monday, Ezra left for his year in Israel. Next week, our sister (Ezra’s twin) Ahava will leave for Israel as well. My mom, dad, Elana (my other sister) and Zach (her husband) and Alisha will miss them greatly.

To quote Lior Hod. “Basketball teaches you a lot about life.”

To quote Rabbi Ely Allen: “Family and friend relationships can always change for the better. It’s never too late.”

To quote Rabbi Netanel Weiderblank: “The best thing you can give someone is your time.”

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